College hoops predictions for 2012
Expect the 2012 Final Four to include a VCU-like team from outside the Big Six
Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim aren't likely to leave their posts anytime soon
More coaches will follow in the steps of Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens and stay put
This was a year to remember in college basketball. Then aren't they all? This is the greatest sport in the world, and it will only be greater -- and more memorable -- in 2012. Best of all, you don't have to wait 12 months to learn what the new year's 10 biggest stories will be. I've predicted them all well in advance.
1. There will be a "this year's VCU." It probably won't be VCU, which is off to an uninspiring start and will have a hard time even making the NCAA tournament. I'm also not saying another team will go from the First Four to the Final Four. But the 2012 Final Four will include a team from outside the Big Six conferences that has no business being there. In college hoops, the world is flat. And it's going to stay that way for a while.
2. The Big Six conferences will become even bigger. The most dispiriting aspect of all this conference expansion madness is that it's only just beginning. These people are long past making cool-headed decisions based on standard profit-and-loss analysis. They are acting out of ego and panic. You can be sure they're not through.
3. Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia will compete in the Big East during the 2012-13 season. Those schools made the decision to leave the league, but the Big East is serious about forcing them to honor the mandatory two-year waiting period -- especially given the confrontational stance taken by West Virginia. With the Big East continuing to add more teams, it will be during this interregnum an unwieldy monster where scheduling is a logistical nightmare. Even so, that's a price worth paying for sticking it to the schools that bailed.
4. Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim will remain coaches at UConn and Syracuse, respectively. There was some speculation during the initial wave of the Bernie Fine story that Boeheim's ill-conceived comments might cost him his job. Boeheim, however, walked those comments back in the nick of time. Absent more damning information, he appears to have survived. Calhoun, meanwhile, seems on the surface to be ripe for retirement, but those who know him insist he will coach until he is literally physically incapable of coaching. As you can plainly see, the 69-year-old can still get the job done.
5. More stories will surface about coaches sexually abusing children. It is sad to say, but I think we're just scratching the surface. If there's one thing we've learned in the Age of Sandusky, it's that this kind of abuse is much more common than most people (including myself) realized. Another thing we've learned is that victims often wait years, if not decades, to reveal what happened to them. The Sandusky story opened up this Pandora's box, and though the details from all these stories will be hard to process, if more victims feel emboldened to air what they know -- and put offenders in prison where they can do no more harm -- then something good will have come of it all.
6. The play on the court will get rougher, not cleaner. John Adams, the NCAA's supervisor of officials, has been fighting a losing battle in his effort to return the game to its finesse roots. We're used to thinking of the NBA's being the more physical game, but most scouts and general managers who watch both sports will tell you there's far more banging and hand-checking happening in college. I'm hoping that someday the rules committee will go the trapezoidal lane that is used in international play to help clear out the post, but that's a pretty radical change, and there's little momentum in that direction.
7. More "hot" mid-major coaches will stay put. As soon as the 2011 NCAA tournament ended, there was very little speculation as to whether Richmond's Chris Mooney, VCU's Shaka Smart and Butler's Brad Stevens would leave their respective schools. The only question was where they would end up. Yet, all three of those guys stayed where they were -- as did Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, Gonzaga's Mark Few and a host of others. That is a testament to the commitment their schools are making, both to those coaches and their programs in general. That commitment is making coaches think twice about going after the money at the expense of uprooting their families and sacrificing job security.
8. Kentucky is headed for a comedown. Coach John Calipari has had extraordinary success during his first three years in Lexington, primarily because of his ability to recruit so many top-flight players. He will have another really good class next year, but it won't of the same caliber of his first three. Plus, Calipari will once again lose a bunch of underclassmen to the NBA draft. Kentucky will still be good, but it will be the worst team Calipari has had since he came there from Memphis.
9. Indiana will continue to rise. The Hoosiers had their big moment of arrival when they upset Kentucky in Bloomington. That was no fluke. None of the Hoosiers' top five scorers this season are seniors, and coach Tom Crean is bringing in a consensus top-three recruiting class next season. Those new arrivals can play, but none appear to be of the one-and-done variety, so Crean has a chance to build a powerful and lasting foundation.
10. Several prospective lottery picks will once again return to college. When North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, Baylor's Perry Jones III and Kentucky's Terrence Jones made their surprising decisions to return to college last spring, many people attributed it to their concerns over the impending lockout. That analysis was always overblown. Plenty of kids jumped into the draft despite the impending labor strife. The four listed above stayed because they understood that they weren't physically, emotionally or psychologically ready to be professional basketball players. Youngsters are becoming more savvy in their understanding that being a high draft pick doesn't mean succeeding in the NBA. They want to make sure that when they get to the pros, they're ready. When more decisions like that roll in next spring without the specter of a work stoppage, more people will understand the trend that is happening.